Species Profile

Five-lined Skink Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population

Scientific Name: Plestiodon fasciatus
Taxonomy Group: Reptiles
Range: Ontario
Last COSEWIC Assessment: April 2007
Last COSEWIC Designation: Special Concern
SARA Status: Schedule 1, Special Concern


Go to advanced search

Related Species

Species COSEWIC
Status
SARA
Status
Five-lined Skink Non-active Special Concern

Quick Links: | Description | Habitat | Biology | Threats | Protection | National Recovery Program | Documents

Image of Five-lined Skink

Description

The Five-lined Skink is a small lizard with smooth, shiny skin. This is the only lizard found in eastern Canada. The biggest individuals of this small and secretive species measure no more than 9 cm in length, excluding the tail. In Ontario, males are slightly bigger than females. Young skinks have a greenish-black body with five cream-coloured lines, which explains this species’ common name. They also have a bright blue tail, which is a distinctive trait of this species. Over time, the colour of the body changes, becoming uniformly bronze in both sexes, although females retain slightly more of the juvenile colouration than males. During the breeding season, the jaws of adult males turn orange. Some females may also have pink throats.

Top

Distribution and Population

The Five-lined Skink occurs in the deciduous forests of eastern North America, from the Atlantic coast to Texas and Minnesota, and from southern Ontario to the Gulf of Mexico. In Canada, the species is confined to two distinct areas in southern Ontario. There are two known populations of Five-lined Skinks in Ontario: the Carolinian population, which concentrates near Lakes Erie, St. Clair, and Huron in southwestern Ontario; and the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, which occurs along the southern edge of the Canadian Shield, from Georgian Bay to Leeds and Greenville County in south-central Ontario. As lizards remain hidden throughout the major portion of the day, it is extremely difficult to estimate the sizes of these populations with any degree of accuracy. Between 1995 and 2004, about 84 populations were reported in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region where the total number of breeding individuals was estimated at 22 300. The number of populations in this region appears to fluctuate from year to year. Prior to 1984, 71 populations had been documented in this region. From 1984 to 1994, the number of populations increased to 115 and, from 1995 to 2004, it dropped to 84.

Top

Habitat

The habitat of the Five-lined Skink varies from region to region and includes rocky outcrops, dunes, fields, and deciduous forests. This species is generally associated with relatively clear areas where sunlight can reach the ground. Skinks from the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population favour large rocky outcrops found within fields or mixed coniferous and deciduous forests. Young lizards mainly frequent open, well-drained, rocky areas where they seek shelter beneath rocks. The availability of suitable microhabitats is vitally important to these reptiles, as they continually take refuge under various shelters during their short foraging excursions. Objects that can provide protection from extreme temperatures and dehydration are an essential habitat element. Since the Five-lined Skink is prone to dehydration, its habitat must includes a permanent water body.

Top

Biology

In Ontario, Five-lined Skinks often hibernate in small groups under tree trunks or rocks, and inside rotting stumps and wood. This lizard is active from mid-April to late September or early October. The Five-lined Skink is an active hunter which feeds mainly on insects and other invertebrates. Five-lined Skinks reach sexual maturity following their second hibernation at 21 months of age. While this skink is not a territorial species, males are often aggressive with other males during breeding season. A few weeks after mating, the female sets off to find a suitable nest site, which she often shares with other females. Female skinks from the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population generally build their nests under rocks. Females lay 9 or 10 eggs, which they incubate until hatching in late July or early August. The female never leaves her nest unattended. The female will also defend her nest against predators, such as snakes, small mammals, and birds. Cats and dogs have also been known to attack Five-lined Skinks. Predators are attracted by the bright blue colouring of the tail. When an individual is attacked, the tail often detaches and continues to wiggle for a few minutes, providing a long enough distraction to allow the Skink to escape. The tail may eventually regenerate. Approximately one individual per clutch survives to breeding age. The average lifespan of the Five-lined Skink is five years.

Top

Threats

In Ontario, this species is threatened by the destruction, fragmentation, and degradation of its habitat caused by the growth of the human population and increased recreational activities. Damage caused by ATVs and motorcycles led to the decline of a Canadian Shield population. The modification of microhabitats, such as rocks and plant debris, represents another major threat. Since the Five-lined Skink shows a strong association with particular microhabitat elements that can provide shelter, the destruction or degradation of these microhabitats could lead to a population decline. In the habitat of the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, most vegetation surrounding the rocky outcrops has disappeared leaving barren sand, and the loose rocks that this species used as cover have been removed so as not to hinder traffic. Although the illegal capture of these small lizards for sale as pets could threaten the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, the extent of the threat remains unknown. Finally, dogs, cats, Raccoons, and vehicular traffic also cause Five-lined Skink deaths.

Top

Protection

Federal Protection

More information about SARA, including how it protects individual species, is available in the Species at Risk Act: A Guide.

In Ontario, the Five-lined Skink qualifies for special protection under the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act. Approximately 30% of the current populations (recorded or confirmed since 1995) in the Great Lakes/St. Lawrence region are afforded a certain degree of protection by virtue of the fact that they are on federal or provincial land. Five-lined Skinks in Georgian Bay Islands National Park and St. Lawrence Islands National Park are protected under the Canada National Parks Act.

Provincial and Territorial Protection

To know if this species is protected by provincial or territorial laws, consult the provinces' and territories' websites.

Top

Documents

PLEASE NOTE: Not all COSEWIC reports are currently available on the SARA Public Registry. Most of the reports not yet available are status reports for species assessed by COSEWIC prior to May 2002. Other COSEWIC reports not yet available may include those species assessed as Extinct, Data Deficient or Not at Risk. In the meantime, they are available on request from the COSEWIC Secretariat.

11 record(s) found.

COSEWIC Status Reports

  • COSEWIC Assessment and Update Status Report on the Five-lined Skink Eumeces fasciatus in Canada (2007)

    Eastern Canada’s only lizard, Eumeces fasciatus, is a secretive, small-bodied animal that reaches a maximum size of approximately 86 mm snout-vent length. Juveniles have five cream-coloured stripes on their black bodies and prominently display the species’ most characteristic feature, a bright blue tail. Body colouration fades with age in both sexes, although females retain more of the original colour pattern. In the breeding season, males develop orange colouration around the jaws and chin. The scales are unkeeled, giving the animal a smooth, shiny appearance.

COSEWIC Assessments

  • COSEWIC Assessment - Five-lined Skink (2007)

    The species was considered a single unit and designated Special Concern in April 1998. Split into two populations in April 2007. The Carolinian population was designated Endangered in April 2007. The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population was designated Special Concern in April 2007. Last assessment based on an update status report.

Response Statements

  • Response Statement - Five-lined Skink, Great Lakes / St. Lawrence population (2007)

    The species is the only lizard in Eastern Canada. This small and secretive species is known from about 84 local populations, but has a small geographic distribution. Threats to the skink include loss and degradation of habitat, alteration of microhabitat, illegal collection, increased depredation by cats and dogs and increased mortality on roads. Increasing development in the species’ range will make populations more isolated and more susceptible to stochastic events on small sites.

Action Plans

  • Multi-species Action Plan for Georgian Bay Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    Georgian Bay Islands National Park (GBINP) is located in southeastern Georgian Bay in the heart of Ontario’s cottage country. Georgian Bay is home to the world’s largest freshwater archipelago, the 30,000 Islands, and the park acts as a southern gateway into this area. Comprising 63 dispersed islands and shoals the total area of the park is 14 km2 from the Centennial Group in the south to McQuade Island 50 kilometres northward. Situated just 150 km from the Greater Toronto Area (GTA), GBINP is within a half-day’s drive for millions of Canadians. Created in 1929 it is Canada’s smallest national park straddling two natural regions and forms a core protected area of the Georgian Bay Biosphere Reserve. The park lies on the edge of the Canadian Shield and is home to both northern and southern plants and animals. The islands are renowned for the variety of reptiles and amphibians they support. The park also has significant cultural value, having been occupied continuously for over 5,500 years. Maintenance and restoration of ecological integrity is the first priority of national parks (Canada National Parks Act s.8(2)). Species at risk, their residences, and their habitat are therefore protected by existing national park regulations and management regimes. In addition, the Species at Risk Act (SARA) prohibitions protecting individuals and residences apply automatically when a species is listed, and all critical habitat in national parks and national historic sites must be legally protected within 180 days of being identified.
  • Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada (2016)

    The Multi-species Action Plan for Thousand Islands National Park of Canada is a Species At Risk Act action plan (SARA s.47) for four species: American Water-willow (Justicia americana), Butternut (Juglans cinerea), Deerberry (Vaccinium stamineum), and Pugnose Shiner (Notropis anogenus). The plan also outlines measures to monitor and manage 30 other species of conservation concern that regularly occur in the park. This plan applies only to lands and waters occurring within the boundaries of Thousand Islands National Park of Canada.

Management Plans

  • Management Plan for the Five-lined Skink (Plestiodon fasciatus), Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population, in Canada (2013)

    The Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population of Five-lined Skink was listed as a species of Special Concern on Schedule 1 of the Species at Risk Act in 2009. The Minister of the Environment and the Minister responsible for the Parks Canada Agency are the competent ministers under SARA for the Five-lined Skink – Great Lakes/St. Lawrence population and have prepared this plan, as per section 65 of SARA. It has been prepared in cooperation with the province of Ontario.

Orders

  • Order Acknowledging Receipt of the Assessments Done Pursuant to Subsection 23(1) of the Act (2008)

    This Order acknowledges receipt by the Governor in Council of the assessments of the status of 30 species made pursuant to paragraph 15(1)(a) and in accordance with subsection 23(1) of the Species at Risk Act by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2009)

    Her Excellency the Governor General in Council, on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment, pursuant to section 27 of the Species at Risk Act, hereby makes the annexed Order Amending Schedules 1 to 3 to the Species at Risk Act.
  • Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act (2012)

    The purpose of the Order Amending Schedule 1 to the Species at Risk Act is to add 18 species to Schedule 1, the List of Wildlife Species at Risk (the List), and to reclassify 7 listed species, pursuant to subsection 27(1) of SARA. This amendment is made on the recommendation of the Minister of the Environment based on scientific assessments by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) and on consultations with governments, Aboriginal peoples, stakeholders and the Canadian public.

COSEWIC Annual Reports

  • COSEWIC Annual Report - 2007 (2007)

    2007 Annual Report to the The Minister of the Environment and the Canadian Endangered Species Conservation Council (CESCC) from the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada.

Consultation Documents

  • Consultation on Amending the List of Species under the Species at Risk Act - Terrestrial Species (2008)

    As part of its strategy for protecting wildlife species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) on June 5, 2003. Attached to the Act is Schedule 1, the list of the species that receive protection under SARA, also called the List of Wildlife Species at Risk. Please submit your comments by March 25, 2008 for species undergoing normal consultations and by March 27, 2009 for species undergoing extended consultations.